UVA hoops: Um, no, I didn’t foresee 27-1

chris jpjColleague Scott German reminded me tonight while we were recording our UVA Sports Today podcast of a conversation that we had driving up to the season opener in Harrisonburg back in November.

The Cavs were a preseason Top 10 team, but one of four teams from the ACC in the Top 10, and ranked behind Duke and UNC.

The ACC media had Virginia fourth in their own preseason poll.

The addition of Louisville to the conference was definitely going to make the ACC tougher, deeper.

And then you looked at that stretch in the middle of the season – home against Duke, on the road two nights later at Carolina, home against Louisville.

Good luck, right?

Next year was supposed to be “the year.” Aside from Darion Atkins, an afterthought last year, the rest of the team was going to be back for 2015-2016.

Pre-JMU, it seemed obvious that this UVA team, the 2014-2015 version, was going to build on what it had done last year, which saw Virginia win 30 games, the ACC regular-season and tournament titles, earn a #1 seed, advance to the program’s first Sweet Sixteen in 19 years. But without Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, there’d also be some lumps along the way, notably that mid-conference season stretch, and then those back-to-back road games at Maryland and at VCU in December.

We agreed that night driving up I-81 that the 2014-2015 Cavs would probably be a better team by season’s end than last year’s group, but also that it might not reflect in the final record.

Thirteen, maybe 14 wins in the ACC, maybe a 10-2 or 11-1 record in non-conference, so you’re somewhere in the area of 23-7, 24-6, 25-5 going into the ACC Tournament, a three seed in the NCAA Tournament: that would be a solid season, and set the tone for a monster 2015-2016.

Keep in mind, this was before we knew that the Cavs would play seven games and counting without Justin Anderson.

(And before we knew that playing seven games without Anderson, who came off the bench last year, would be that big a deal.)

And before we knew that Atkins would join Anthony Gill as a post force, ably filling the defensive stopper role that Mitchell had on last year’s team, and adding more punch on offense than Mitchell was able to give.

There’s nothing at all wrong with 23, 24, 25 wins, a top-four ACC finish. Last year’s team didn’t have those kind of expectations to live up to. Remember that the 2013-2014 Cavs were barely a Top 25 team preseason, and were out of the national rankings after a middling 9-4 start.

Those Cavs snuck up on the ACC; these Cavs were going to get everybody’s best shot.

Which gets us to … 27-1. To borrow from Dick Vitale, are you serious?

Only one UVA team had ever started a season 27-1. It wasn’t a record that anybody thought in November was going to be threatened, to say the least.

The UVA fan in me would have been happy as a pregnant clam to have that 23-, 24-, 25-win team heading into the NCAA Tournament.

I’m still afraid to pinch myself not wanting to let this 27-1 thing slip away into the reality of the night.

– Column by Chris Graham

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